Trade Secrets

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

October 31, 2007

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

Smart car promotes green goals

When Shirey Contracting's production staff drives around town they're sure to be noticed, thanks to the new Smart Car the company recently purchased.

The car is an important part of the Issaquah, Wash., company's campaign supporting its Build Smart green construction division. With its compact size (about 8 feet long by 5 feet wide) and colorful paint, the car gets a lot of attention.

"You need to be in a good mood when you drive it, because everybody wants to talk to you about it," says President Donna Shirey. "People out in the community are talking about it; people want to sit in it. It's getting a lot of attention."

The environmentally friendly car gets about 50 miles per gallon.

Shirey first got the idea to buy one of the cars when she and her husband and partner Riley visited Europe this past summer.

"As we were going around, we started seeing all these itty-bitty cars everywhere," she says. "By the end of the week, I said 'I want a Smart Car for our business.'"

The Smart Car is produced in Europe by a joint venture of Mercedes and Swatch. Although the company has owned the car for only a few months, Shirey is already planning on buying more for the business, she says.

"Once you drive that little thing, you say it's just great," Shirey says. "It feels like a big car inside."

Binder system keeps clients in touch

With clients becoming increasingly busy between work and evening activities, it's not uncommon for Kasten Builders to miss connecting with their clients face-to-face.

So earlier this year, the Novato, Calif., company started using job binders to keep homeowners up-to-date on project progress.

"Sometimes clients would get home and they'd look around and think nothing had been done all day," says Vice President Pete Kasten. "Now they can see exactly what work was done."

The company uses two binders: one that goes back to the office and one that stays at the home. Every day, the job foreman records in the binders which employees and trade contractors were on the job, how long they were there and what work was done. Internally, it helps the company verify timecard information and material usage, as well as track change orders. For clients, it keeps them informed of the work. That's especially important for time and materials jobs, which represent about 30 percent of the company's business.

"We've had a little bit of a problem with changes in the past," Kasten says. "This way, we have evidence of what we've done everyday, so if the client has any questions, we can take care of it right away."

A happy staff = happy clients

Many remodelers survey their clients after a job is completed. But how many canvass their employees to make sure they're satisfied?

Sun Design Remodeling Specialists in Burke, Va., started employee satisfaction surveys in 2006 with the idea that the best way to create an exceptional experience for clients was to have satisfied employees. The survey allows management to make sure the company is meeting its goal of creating a culture of "charity, truth and fun," says Jennifer Kidwell, the company's director of communications.

Employees take the survey twice a year and management uses the results to create or change policies. Almost 60 percent of employees participate in the surveys, a rate that Kidwell says is increasing as they realize its impact. Changes implemented because of employee feedback include offering AFLAC insurance, revamping the performance evaluation system and additional training for employees.

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